Diamond Men

 

Robin Clifford 

Laura Clifford 

Eddie Miller (Robert Forster) is a traveling jewelry salesman whose life on the road has spanned over 30 years until one day he has a heart attack. Now, considered a liability by the front office, Eddie learns that he is about to lose his longtime sales circuit to another. Adding insult to injury, he also learns that he has to show the ropes of the road to this new guy, Bobby Walker (Donnie Wahlberg), in “Diamond Men.”

Robin:
Robert Forster, who has maintained a low profile in films despite his decades in the business, came back into the limelight with his perf in the 1997 Quentin Tarantino movie, “Jackie Brown.” With “Diamond Men” the veteran actor stars as a solitary, recently widowed jewel salesman who has run the roads of his Pennsylvania territory for decades. After his sudden heart attack he is informed by his younger boss that he is now a poor insurance risk and has to give up the only work life he has really known. With little guarantee of continued employment in the company, he is also told that he is the one who will train his replacement. The only commitment he can get from his condescending boss is the vague “we’ll do our best” to keep the veteran salesman employed.

Then, like an additional slap to the injury of losing his job, Eddie is saddled with Bobby, whose total sales experience stems from two years of servicing vending machines. Brash, flashily dressed and virtually unschooled in sales etiquette, the young know-it-all presumes from the start to grasp more than his mentor. He resists, at first, the wisdom of the road dispensed by Eddie but soon learns that the older man knows what he is doing and it behooves the rookie to pay attention. As the barriers come down between them, during the weeks of training and traveling the roads of Pennsylvania, the pair becomes friends and a mutual bonding begins.

As Eddie and Bobby get to know, and like, each other they both receive an education. Bobby learns the subtlety of the jewelry business, how to act around a client and, most important, how to close a sale. Eddie gets reintroduced to a joie de vie that he hasn’t had since his wife went into the years-long bout with cancer that eventually took her life, leaving Eddie with a void that he fills with his work. He is scared and insecure when Bobby coerces him to go to a “massage” parlor, especially when his masseuse uncovers a giant eyeball tattooed on her chest. Bobby feels so strongly about helping his muse enjoy life, he then fixes him up with a mature, attractive woman, Katie (Bess Armstrong), not realizing that she has her own working girl past.

There is a palpable chemistry between Forster and Wahlberg as the two very different, generationally separated diamond men have to first, tolerate each other (especially Eddie towards Bobby), then, accept each other and, eventually and believably, become good friends. Bess Armstrong is perfect as the love interest for Eddie and gives dimension to her perf as a woman with a past but, nonetheless, a good woman. She is the spark that allows Eddie to live once again. Supporting cast is scant but character actor George Coe is convincing as one of Eddie’s oldest customers and a close friend who falls for a much younger woman, to his own detriment. Jasmine Guy is likable as Tina, the lady who runs Bobbie’s favorite “massage parlor” and has a genuine affection for the young fellow.

Techs are solid with crisp lensing by John Huneck and a varied production that brings you into the life, on the road, of a traveling salesman. The small town-feel of the little motels, the family restaurants and the mom-and-pop jewelry stores that Eddie and Bobby frequent puts you in the heartland of America in a very real way.

One problem I have with the screenplay, by helmer Daniel M. Cohen (based, loosely, on his father’s own life as a traveling salesman), stems from the abrupt changing of gears as the story shifts from a buddy/road movie with a nice building of the chemistry between Eddie and Bobby to a dramatic turn where a rushed introduction of larceny changes the mood of the film. The drama that unfolds is set up, perfunctorily, in the beginning of the film and makes this crime portion feel tacked on and contrived. The upbeat final coda takes away some of the sourness of the last third of the flick and you come out of “Diamond Men” with, fortunately, a positive outlook as our heroes, in the end, are winners. This is as it should be.

I give “Diamond Men” a B.

Laura:
Eddie Miller (Robert Forster, "Jackie Brown"), a man in his fifties, suddenly finds his livelihood threatened when a mild heart attack renders him uninsurable.  He's a fine jewelry salesman who travels throughout Pennsylvania with a million dollars worth of inventory.  Clinging to the only job he knows, Eddie agrees to train his replacement, the young, brash Bobby Walker (Donnie Wahlberg, "The Sixth Sense") in writer/director Dan Cohen's "Diamond Men."

Bobby arrives in a flashy sports car ('I can't sit in that seat - my prostrate will be up in my throat,' harrumphs Eddie) full of bravado.  When Eddie worries about 'protecting the line' by remaining inconspicuous, Bobby retorts that it's insured and begins to score chicks in each remote hamlet.  He's late in the morning, uses profanity in front of customers and can't handle jeweler's equipment.  Eddie is beside himself, but one day they have a breakthrough when Bobby appreciates Eddie explaining the difference between two diamonds to a shopper.  'What's the magic word?' he asks Eddie afterwards, referring to Eddie's ability to make sale after sale while he strikes out. 'They're not saying no, they're saying give me a reason to say yes,' replies Eddie.

Now that the young man has asked for his help, Eddie softens and they open up to each other.  Bobby scored well on a test, but he admits a friend actually filled it out and his only experience on the road has been filling vending machines.  Eddie, meanwhile, has recently lost his beloved wife to cancer and the long illness just about wiped him out financially.  Eddie becomes more encouraging and patient training Bobby while Bobby becomes committed to finding a female companion for Eddie.  When none of his small town conquests are interested in the older man, Bobby brings him to his friend Tina (Jasmine Guy, TV's "A Different World"), who runs The Altoona Riding Club, a backwoods brothel.  It's here that Eddie's nightmares and unimagined dreams will both come true.

Cohen has not one, but two triumphs with his small, independent feature. Firstly, he captures completely the world of a salesman's small town route where routine and out of the way motels and restaurants are comfortingly familiar and customers are treated like old friends.  Secondly, he's elicited strong and natural performances from his two costars, with Forster's being one of the best male leads of the year.

Forster's Eddie is an exceedingly decent and competent man, trying to roll with the extremely bad hand he's been dealt.  While he's initially (and justifiably) exasperated with Bobby's behavior, he always keeps his cool, like the mellow jazz he likes to listen to.  Wahlberg is hilariously obnoxious at first, hoping his flashy loudness will be misinterpreted as confidence. Bess Armstrong is good, if a bit too clinical as Katie, the woman Eddie meets at Tina's and George Coe is fine as Tip, one of Eddie's oldest customers.

The film begins to lose its momentum in its final act, but finds its way back again by delivering a satisfying and unexpected punchline. "Diamond Men" sparkles most, however, when examining the moments so many would find dull.

B

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